Part 62: EpilogueEpilogue
So now that I've played the game through about 2.6 times, I think I'm prepared to revisit the questions that inspired this LP in the first place.
What did this game do best? The obvious answer is character development, but that turns out to be an unfairly narrow description, and yet a little too inclusive as well. Instead, let's say that it is Yuna and Paine's character development, and all of the story and gameplay elements that supported it. The game developers populated Spira with reflections of the two extremes between which Yuna was trying to navigate, and narrowed and expanded the game world as Yuna was constrained and then freed by her choices. And Paine, more than just being a solid and impressively subtle character, is also a statistical improbability in the video game industry; a well-developed female character whose personality and motivations would be just as consistent if she and every other character switched genders. She's a strong character first, and a Strong Female Character only in retrospect.
On top of that, rather than falling into the trap of having to choose between the characterization and the Job system (a well-executed game mechanic and strong contender for Thing Game Did Best in its own right) we can also recognize that the Dresspheres are also a metaphor of the characters' search for modern identity, guided by the spirits of the past. The developers took a risk making a game mechanic central to the plot, and the payoff is that the whole thing ties together thematically, making the game feel more unified than any other modern Final Fantasy I can think of.
What did this game do worst? If you're of a certain Internet Age, the phrase "RPGMaker Game" will probably trigger a particular sensory memory for you. For me, the phrase evokes walking down blocky, obviously linear or pointlessly maze-like corridors that funnel you into hidden fixed battles against prepackaged clip-art enemies while MIDI ripoffs of Super Nintendo music play in the background. That is the flavor of the pointless game, something created out of a compulsion to use all of the available tools rather than in the service of a specific goal or blueprint. It's hard to call the developers lazy when they created seventeen new combat models and associated attack animations for each main character, but sometimes the game becomes slightly transparent, and the checklist hiding beneath its skin is visible, and it is in those moments that the game is at its worst.
Honorable mention goes to Rikku and Brother, who are simply incapable of being in a scene without trying to steal it and failing miserably while making me really uncomfortable.
Is the game good? I didn't really think so the first time I completed the game, one eye on the screen, a 100% completion FAQ up on my laptop, a LEGO sculpture holding controller buttons down for me while my AP slowly earned themselves. But while I had some unflattering things to say about the game in the course of this LP, I also discovered that I was playing it wrong. I'm starting to realize that this question is as dependent on the player as it is on the game design. Having a secret ending with bullshit completion requirements was a poor choice on the developer's side, but insisting on seeing that ending was a choice I made and stuck with even though I wasn't having any fun doing it. I lost sight of the journey while focused on the destination.
Suppose I had played through the game without a FAQ. It's a weird concept for a modern RPG, but it's how games used to be played, right? I probably would have seen the standard ending, and deemed it to be a perfectly reasonable and serviceable one. After a while, I probably would have picked the game up again and done some more exploring, and eventually went to a guide for the last few things I never would have found on my own. That, I think, I would have called a good game experience. But it's not what I thought to do, and so the game and I were a poor match. But I also don't have the twitch gaming reflexes to play, say, Painkiller, and it's wouldn't be fair to call it a bad game for that reason. Badness is objective, but goodness is subjective, I guess is what I'm getting at. And Final Fantasy X-2 is nothing if not subjective.
Thanks to everyone for reading, for getting involved in some really neat discussions in the thread, and for indulging my numerous tangents. Special thanks to Shoopuf for digging up that bit of prequel game script, and Karma Guard and Pesky Splinter and everyone who posted cool arts. This was fun, guys; let's do it again some time.